Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering the Disappeared, Fighting Forgetfulness

Remembering the Disappeared, Fighting Forgetfulness

The International Day of the Disappeared on August 30 is an annual commemoration day created to draw attention to the fate of individuals who have disappeared, imprisoned at places and under conditions unknown to their relatives or legal representatives. In Indonesia, the commemoration has been started with various activities, under the theme of “Remembering the Disappeared, Fighting against Forgetfulness”. The commemoration this year is aimed remembering all those made disappeared because of government repressive policy in the past. By remembering them and their circumstances, we expect that such tragedy will never happen again in the future.

Nature of disappearances
By nature, enforced disappearance is considered as "the perfect crime" since both the victim and the perpetrators "give no evidence and provide no identification". The disappearance of physical and tangible evidences of crime allows this "crime against humanity" to freely inflict terror like ghosts, as it escapes the borders of reason.

As this crime thrives in a culture of impunity, victims of disappearances are left in a limbo of existence and non-existence; of remembrance and oblivion; of life and death. The bereaved families, on the other hand, are torn between hope and despair; of remembering and forgetting; of living and dying.

Quite significantly, however, families have shown great resilience from succumbing to depression, forgetting and hopelessness. They constantly found ways to carry on with their lives, finding hope and courage to fight for Truth and Justice in memory of their vanished husbands, brothers, sons, wives, sisters, and daughters.

Convention Against Disappearances
The International Day of the Disappeared is also marked with the successful adoption by the UN General Assembly in December last year of the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention Against Disappearances). The Convention that has legal binding to the State Party will be a significant legal international human rights instrument to fill the absence of such instrument in national and international level. As of now, Indonesia and most countries have no national mechanism criminalizing disappearances nor Asian regional mechanism on disappearances like that in Latin America.

In the commemoration of the International Day of the Disappeared, the relatives of victims are expecting that the government sign the Convention Against Disappearances as promised by Human Rights Minister Hamid Awaluddin in the High Level Segment speech of the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, Swiss last March 2007. Signing the Convention Against Disappearances as an initial step towards ratification will prove that the government’s commitment is not only on paper. It will also strengthen Indonesian strategic position in the United Nations, especially in the UN Human Rights Council and UN Security Council.

When ratified, Indonesia will have to comply with the Convention, and along with the world will help stop, prevent, prosecute the perpetrators of disappearances, fulfill the rights of the victims and their relatives and make disappearances history of the past.

The outstanding cases
In October 2006, national Commission on Human Rights (KOMNAS HAM) finished the reports on the inquiry of the cases of disappearances happened in 1997 – 1998. In the reports, KOMNAS HAM found that there are 23 persons reported disappeared. Of the 23 cases, one found dead, nine resurfaced or released in 1998 and the remaining 13 are still disappearing up until today.

In the recommendation, KOMNAS HAM asks the Attorney General to investigate the case based on the Law No 26/2000 on Human Rights Court. The President and the Parliament are also recommended to expedite the process the establishment of Human Rights Court and to deliver the rights of the victims to reparations which include compensation, restitution and rehabilitation.

Of the whole recommendations by Komnas HAM, no satisfactory progress has been made, but the Attorney General awaiting the parliament for political decision on whether the cases being investigated are gross violations of human rights or not. This the most worrying process experiences by the victims and their relatives.

It is in the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared that the government is expected to make a breakthrough by having the Attorney General investigate the cases, without waiting for the Parliament for political decision. Political decision by parliament is needed only for the cases of the past that happened before the enactment of the Law on Human Rights Court in 2000. Considering the fact that disappearances are continuing crimes by nature, as long as the fate and whereabouts of the victims are not yet clarified make the cases under the jurisdiction of the normal Human Rights Court, like those of the case of Abepura tackled by the Human Rights Court in Makasar in 2005.

[1] Mugiyanto is the chairperson of IKOHI and AFAD (Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances)

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